Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which results from the loss of expression of the survival of motor neuron-1 (SMN1) gene, represents the most common genetic cause of pediatric mortality. A duplicate copy (SMN2) is inefficiently spliced, producing a truncated and unstable protein. We describe herein a potent, orally active, small-molecule enhancer of SMN2 splicing that elevates full-length SMN protein and extends survival in a severe SMA mouse model. We demonstrate that the molecular mechanism of action is via stabilization of the transient double-strand RNA structure formed by the SMN2 pre-mRNA and U1 small nuclear ribonucleic protein (snRNP) complex. The binding affinity of U1 snRNP to the 5' splice site is increased in a sequence-selective manner, discrete from constitutive recognition. This new mechanism demonstrates the feasibility of small molecule-mediated, sequence-selective splice modulation and the potential for leveraging this strategy in other splicing diseases.